Thursday - 02 October 2014

Louis Wain cats are withdrawn from auction

29 September 2008Written by ATG Reporter

The volume of artist Louis Wain’s distinctive ceramic animals making a sudden appearance on the market has raised the possibility that some could be reproductions or fakes. Seven have been offered at various UK salerooms in the last month, while two suspect examples have already been pulled from a Bonhams sale.

In all there are 20 different types of Louis Wain's Futurist animals with most, but not all of them, being cats. They were were made in three countries and at three different factories and over two periods either side of the First World War.

According to Cork Marcheschi, a sculptor from California who began collecting Wain cat models in 1971 and is preparing a book on the subject, there were periods of production in Austria and England c.1914 and then Czechoslovakia and England c.1919-22.

None of the models is common, so it was the appearance of so many Wain animal figures on the market in September (there were seven in all in the UK and others overseas) that aroused suspicion.

The unusual 'glut' in part reflects the £8200 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium) paid for the genuine The Futurist Cat at The Canterbury Auction Galleries on June 17 (see ATG No 1847, July 5) - a record price that saw vendors of other figures from the series hoping to cash in.

The large-sized Canterbury figure is possibly the rarest of the known cats, was in excellent condition, a good colour and had all of the necessary marks for a 1914 cat. It also had a provenance that could also be traced back to an owner in New Jersey c.1928.

Of the seven offered in various UK salerooms in September, it was only the two figures withdrawn from Bonhams' sale of British ceramic design on September 23-24 that raised questions with their lightweight biscuit body, unusual or pale colours and unusual or absent marks.

Lot number 115 was Happy Jappy Cat, a potentially very rare spill vase, 51/2in (14cm) high estimated at £1000-1500. The 1968 Wain history, The Man Who Drew Cats by Rodney Dale, includes a picture of the model and the design is known from a 1912 Louis Wain drawing inscribed for Max Emanuel, the London-based glass and porcelain retailer whose suppliers included Riessner, Stellmacher & Kessel (Amphora) in Bohemia, a maker of the Futurist cats.

However, this example lacks the Louis Wain script signature (typically embossed, hand-painted or both to the side of every model), has weak colours and is made in an atypical lightweight biscuit body.

The following lot, Lucky Futurist Cat, was from another vendor. This model is more familiar but was in the same unusual paste, has a printed Louis Wain 'mark' in a sans serif typeface close to the tail and it has a name to the base (wrongly identified as Lucky Knight Errant Cat). All make it quite unlike other production runs.

Two London dealers who viewed the sale felt they were not right and their concerns were added to those of Mr Marcheschi. Bonhams' specialist Mark Oliver acted swiftly and withdrew the lots from sale. He described their current status as "in limbo pending further investigation".

By Roland Arkell

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